Commerce secretary upbeat on economy
Carlos Gutierrez says some indicators still strong, despite some talk that a recession is near or already here.
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Despite rampant recession talk on Wall Street, Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez remains upbeat on the nation's overall economic health.
Gutierrez pointed to rising wages, an increase in the total amount of hours worked, growing exports and unemployment that remains below the 30-year average as all signs the economy is still strong.
"I look at the facts," he said in an interview Friday with CNNMoney.com. "There are some very positive sides to the U.S. economy, the challenge is to keep it going."
His glass-half-full outlook runs contrary to the opinions of many economists. An increasing number of experts - including some former members of the Bush administration - say rising unemployment and little growth in new jobs, coupled with declines in retail sales, gasoline demand and corporate profits, are evidence the economy is near or already in recession.
There has been talk that President Bush or Congress might propose some sort of economic stimulus package that could include tax cuts and rebates, or extending unemployment benefits.
Gutierrez wouldn't say when or what kind of plan the president might offer to stimulate the economy, only that he is "keeping all his options open."
On trade policy, Gutierrez reiterated the administration's position that more free trade agreements are better for the economy.
"A protectionist policy would hurt our economy," he said. "When we restrict imports, that will hurt us."
The administration is pushing for passage of free trade agreements with Columbia, Panama and South Korea in 2008. But the deals are running into opposition from Congress and union leaders, who fear growing trade deficits and the loss of U.S. manufacturing jobs.
Presidential candidates from both political parties - notably Democrat contender John Edwards and, to a lesser extent, Republican Mike Huckabee - have expressed concern over free trade deals as well.
Gutierrez said he is not prepared to punish China with economic sanctions for failing to allow their currency, the yuan, to appreciate more quickly.
He said the administration's current approach of continued dialogue, combined with bringing cases against China to the World Trade Organization and enforcing current U.S. import law, is "the way to manage a very complex relationship."
Some U.S. manufacturers have called for tariffs on Chinese goods in retaliation for the Chinese government not allowing its currency to appreciate faster against the dollar - which makes Chinese goods less expensive.
In global trade agreements, Gutierrez indicated he's unwilling to cut U.S. agricultural subsidies in order to jumpstart the current Doha Round of trade talks and seemed to blame much of the impasse on developing nations.
"I'm not going to negotiate with ourselves here," said Gutierrez, when asked if he's willing to cut U.S. farm subsidies as a concession to get the talks started again. "We'd like to see our counterparts come to the table."
The trade talks have been held up over battles between developed and developing nations over issues like agricultural subsidies for rich-world farmers, which developing nations say are hurting their main export industries.
Developed nations - like the United States and the European Union countries - say developing countries need to further reduce tariffs on industrial goods.